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Car reviews - Citroen - C4 - 1.6 HDi 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Style, performance, economy, emissions, individuality, cabin layout and presentation, space
Room for improvement
Manual sticky and EGS requires concentration, ride and handling not up to class best

15 Nov 2007

WHAT we have here, dear readers, is a timely Citroen.

This may seem like a contradiction in terms, since – by and large – the French company’s offerings have either been deemed too futuristic (1955 DS) or too behind-the-times (Xsara).

However, as the ongoing success of the C4 small-car range proves, seizing the moment can certainly have its benefits.

And few things automotive are more ‘now’ than offering turbo-diesel power. So without further ado, here is the C4 HDi.

The HDi is a joint effort between PSA Peugeot/Citroen and Ford Motor Company, designed to outdo the latest diesel efforts from Renault, GM Opel, Fiat and – especially – Volkswagen.

It is a beauty too.

From just 1.6 litres, it provides the sort of acceleration and momentum you might expect from a 2.6-litre unit.

Conversely, averaging 5.6 litres per 100km places the C4 HDi somewhere between the frugality of a Toyota Prius Hybrid and a Toyota Yaris 1.3.

“What’s the catch?” we hear you ask?

Well, we would be lying if we said you could not tell it was a diesel from inside or standing besides the Citroen, but it sounds like a modern, tightly engineered one.

The mid-range shove is forceful though contained, and at freeway speeds the little HDi just chugs away quietly but forcefully.

Before running out of revs past 5000rpm, there is an irresistible elasticity in the way it swings through the 2000rpm to 4000rpm range, in quite an un-diesel like manner.

And like a luxury European car, the cruise control system maintains a pre-set speed even when running downhill.

Still, Citroen seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by not offering a fully automatic gearbox.

What we are left with is either a soft, loose and slightly raggedy five-speed manual shifter, with a too-high clutch pedal on the test car and a propensity to stick instead of snick into gear… or EGS.

Released early 2007, EGS stands for Electronic Gear Shift gearbox.

On paper, it’s a winner – decreasing fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, maintaining the same performance while adding just 1kg to the weight of the otherwise identical six-speed manual gearbox.

Citroen says that it is exactly like the six-speed manual gearbox except that it has a hydraulically-actuated clutch.

There are two nifty paddle shifts attached to the fixed steering wheel hub, meaning you always know exactly where they are when using the EGS in manual mode. The traditional ‘Tiptronic style’ gear lever can also be shifted, should one prefer.

This gearbox, however, has a few quite fundamental flaws.

Biggest of all is the ‘A’ for Automatic ratio, which changes gears automatically, but it does so with a fatiguing jerkiness at anything other than at very slow or gentle speeds. Plus it’s slow to respond. It’s a lot like Alfa’s troublesome Selespeed, in fact.

Worse still, there is no safety indentation to stop you knocking the lever out of ‘A’ and into ‘R’ for Reverse – an amazing and potentially dangerous oversight. And without a traditional ‘P’ for Park, you’re left to rely solely on the handbrake to stop you rolling away.

Sure, if you are in the mood, you can execute smooth, instant and satisfying gear changes in manual mode, giving the C4 EGS a new and different driving edge and the 5g/km CO2 – and 0.2L/100km in fuel – savings are appealing. Even in heavy city traffic we were averaging respectable 5.7L/100km.

But in Australian urban traffic, there is too much concentration needed to operate EGS compared to a regular automatic. Isn’t this a reason why people opt for an automatic transmission after all?

Our advice is to try before you buy. Admittedly, we eventually warmed to the EGS, but we think it is not as good a solution as Volkswagen’s brilliant dual-clutch DSG.

Like in all C4s, the handling is safe but lacks involvement, lacking the sharpness or deftness of virtually every modern small-car rival at low speeds.

Yet the steering is stable, linear and quite informative at higher velocities.

The ride meanwhile, is a curiosity – it can be noisy and feel a bit firm. Yet bigger bumps are actually well dispensed of, with the Citroen seeming to float over irregularities you might image it would stumble over.

Occasionally a thump from the rear of the car through faster corners reminds you of the relative simplicity of the C4’s Peugeot 307-derived suspension compared to that of a Ford Focus or VW Golf, for example.

But don’t despair all you need to do is remind yourself of how great the Citroen is to look at inside and out.

Like all C4s, there is a bold simplicity to the dashboard’s appearance.

Special mention needs to be made of that fabulous fixed centre hub steering wheel, with its somewhat bewildering array of remote audio, cruise and trip menu controls. It looks and works a treat.

On the other hand, some of the plastic trim looks and feels flimsy.

Taller passengers complain about the limited front seat travel while the sloping roof eats away at rear headspace. This is the price you pay for style.

But the vision is good (aided by an extra side window in the curvaceous rear side pillar), the seats firmly comfortable and the ambience is inviting.

Boot space, while not great, does benefit from split rear seats that fold and tumble forward. And there’s a nifty luggage separator too.

Disappointments? The clap-hand wipers leave a big blind spot to the right of the driver the front seat adjuster position means you graze your knuckles and the digital speedo placement annoys since it is just out of your line of vision – although you might become accustomed to this.

How you view the C4 HDi depends on whether style and individuality are important to you, because the Citroen small car is certainly nowhere near best-in-class as far as fun or dynamics are concerned.

Yet the 1.6 HDi EGS has a place on your shopping list if you are benchmarking it against the Toyota Prius, because it is an environmental match in many ways, is actually a better driver’s car, and costs less money – although this argument is less sound against the underrated Honda Civic Hybrid.

Make no mistake then. The C4 1.6 HDi is amazingly economical and impressively green, fantastic to look at and a real style statement – and this makes it a proper fit for the times.

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